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PEM to assess how neuroscience can enhance the museum experience

Released March 13, 2017

Groundbreaking initiative brings first-ever neuroscientist on staff at an art museum

SALEM, MA –– The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has been awarded a generous grant from the Barr Foundation to assess how emerging neuroscience research can enhance the museum experience. Over the course of a year, PEM will work with a team of neuroscientists to gain deeper insight into emerging brain science findings -- including the nature of perception, information processing and attention systems -- in order to create new interpretative and design strategies that foster indelible, transformational museum experiences. Marking a first for art museums, this groundbreaking initiative enables PEM to hire a full-time neuroscientist as well as work with three consulting neuroscientists to synthesize research and publish comprehensive recommendations for the museum field at large.

“Applying neuroscience research to museum experience design is an entirely new and tremendously exciting strategy, one that has already produced positive outcomes and new kinds of guidance for the presentation and interpretation of art and museum education,” says Dan Monroe, PEM’s Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO and former president of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). “We are deeply appreciative of the Barr Foundation’s support which furthers our mission to create encounters with art, culture and creative expression that transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world.”

PEM’s neuroscience initiative is an extension of the museum’s experience design strategy which in recent years has introduced innovative visitor engagement strategies into its exhibitions. In last year’s Rodin exhibition, professional dancers were integrated into the galleries to draw visitor attention to human form, posture and movement. Elsewhere, PEM’s Asia in Amsterdam exhibition introduced unexpected multi-sensory and interactive experiences, emphasized emotive storytelling and integrated Attention Systems logic into the design and layout. The Barr Foundation grant will allow the museum to significantly enhance its experience design program in unprecedented, new ways.

“PEM has always embraced work that sparks curiosity about the world and diverse cultures,” said San San Wong, Senior Program Officer for Arts and Creativity at the Barr Foundation. “At a time when it is more critical than ever to invest in curiosity and mutual understanding, Barr is pleased to support PEM’s bold, rigorous exploration of how to put people at the center of that work, and to transform the museum experience.“

Based in Boston, The Barr Foundation focuses regionally, and selectively engages nationally, working in partnership with nonprofits, foundations, the public sector, and civic and business leaders to elevate the arts and creative expression, to advance solutions for climate change, and to connect all students to success in high school and beyond. The Foundation’s Arts & Creativity program is focused on the goal of elevating the arts and enabling creative expression to engage and inspire a dynamic, thriving Massachusetts. With assets of $1.6 billion, Barr is among the largest private foundations in New England and has contributed more than $834 million to charitable causes since 1999. Learn more at

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-four noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only such example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States, and the Phillips Library, which holds one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm, and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $6 (plus museum admission). Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

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Whitney Van Dyke - Director of Communications - 978-542-1828 -

Melissa Woods - Communications Specialist - 978.542.1609 -